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N.S. to remove remaining COVID-19 restrictions, including isolation for positive cases

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WATCH: Nova Scotia is lifting all remaining COVID-19 restrictions, including mandatory self-isolation for those who test positive. Alicia Draus has more. – Jul 4, 2022

Nova Scotia is moving to lift all remaining COVID-19 restrictions this week, including the mandatory self-isolation period for those who test positive.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said it is the “right time” to remove the remaining rules because vaccine coverage is high and the risk of severe disease from Omicron variants is low. He did say, however, he expects “smaller waves” of virus activity over the summer.

Read more: COVID-19: Nova Scotia reports four more deaths in weekly report

The change takes place on Wednesday.

“COVID isn’t going away. We’re going to have some level of COVID virus with us for the foreseeable future,” he told reporters during a virtual briefing on Monday.

“Our response at the very beginning of the pandemic was necessarily very strict because we were dealing with something we knew virtually nothing about. Plus, we had no underlying immunity. That’s why it was a pandemic, and there’s no underlying immunity around the globe. Over two years, we learned lots and lots about the virus.”

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He added that “virtually every other province” has made this step weeks ahead of Nova Scotia.
“Does that mean that there are going to be some people (who) are at increased risk and there will be some people that die from COVID? Yes,” Strang said.

“There are people that die every year from influenza. And I don’t … mean at all to be dismissive of that. But that is a reality, that the very tight measures that that are focused just on COVID are not sustainable or realistic to have over the long term.”

He said health officials will continue to monitor the epidemiology in the province and “work hard to get the right balance.” If there are resurgences in virus activity — whether that be in the summer or in the fall — his team would bring forward recommendations for appropriate health measures.

Mandatory isolation ends, masking ‘optional’

Effective 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, isolation will shift from being “mandatory” to “strongly recommended” for people who test positive for COVID-19 and those who have symptoms. Currently, people who have COVID-19 must self-isolate for seven days from the positive test or the onset of symptoms.

“It is still important for people with symptoms to avoid high-risk settings and people at higher risk,” a release from the province read.

Strang said he doesn’t expect dropping mandatory self-isolation will result in an increase in infections.

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“I don’t see how this will change things substantially, even though it has been mandatory,” he said.

“(Self-isolation) really has been left up to people. We haven’t been enforcing that. Now that’s very difficult to actually enforce that. So all along, it’s really been asking Nova Scotians to do the right thing.”

People are asked to continue to follow any workplace occupational health policies, which may have stricter rules than the general public health recommendations. That could include mandatory masking or isolation requirements.

As well, most restrictions in high-risk settings, such as health-care facilities, will remain.

Read more: Nova Scotians aged 50 and older can soon get a second COVID 19 booster dose

Also effective that date, guidance on the use of masks will shift from “strongly recommended” to “optional,” though they are still strongly recommended for those who are ill or in a crowded outdoor setting.

It is also still strongly recommended that those who have COVID-19 symptoms but cannot self-isolate to wear a well-fitted mask in indoor public places, on public transit and in crowded areas.

“It is each person’s own decision whether to wear a mask, weighing their risk factors and comfort and those of people around them,” the release said.

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Testing and high-risk settings

The province said those who have symptoms will still have access to COVID-19 testing at centres across the province, but testing will no longer be offered to those without symptoms.

As well, those with symptoms who are in a low-risk category in their self-assessment will only have access to rapid tests, and will not get a PCR test — even if they test positive on a rapid test.

Higher-risk people and those who work or live in a higher-risk congregate setting can still access PCR testing.

Read more: ‘Going to be a marathon’: Nova Scotia struggles to retain doctors and nurses

Rapid tests will continue to be available for pickup at public libraries and MLA offices, but those who are sick should not go, the release said.

As well, designated visitors and caregivers in long-term care, corrections, and shelter and transition house settings will no longer need proof of vaccination to visit. They will also be able to remove their masks when visiting a private area or while outdoors.

The seven-day isolation for residents who test positive for COVID-19 will still be required, the release said, and the COVID-19 mandatory vaccination protocol for high-risk settings remains in place.

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Move to monthly reporting

As well, beginning this month, the province will shift to a monthly COVID-19 report, which will be posted online. The province had been producing weekly reports since March, and daily updates before then.

“The report will be produced on the 15th of every month and reflect the COVID-19 epidemiology in the province for the previous month,” Monday’s release said.

“The first monthly report will be for June and will be available on July 15.”

The COVID-19 dashboard will continue to be updated weekly, the province added.

In its latest weekly report last Thursday, Nova Scotia reported four deaths linked to COVID-19, 1,491 new lab-confirmed cases and 28 hospitalizations.

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